MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Penarth to Ilfracombe 1st October 2016

Peter Howlett; MARINElife WLO
Weather: W-NW 4 inc. 6-7 then dec. 3 later, heavy showers at first, visibility mainly good

Summary of sightings
Seabirds:
Gannet
Shag
Great Skua
Artic Skua
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull

Terrestrial birds:
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit

The forecast for the day had been for a lot of rain but as it turned out the day was a mix of sunshine and showers - although the frequency on the way out to Ilfracombe meant you were seeking shelter more often than not. There was a good crowd on the pier at Penarth for this last sailing down channel for the 2016 season, including one group really entering into the spirit having turned up dressed as pirates.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 29

Great Skua (Peter Howlett)

The journey out to Ilfracombe was remarkable for almost a complete lack of birds - apart from two Meadow Pipit making the crossing south. The first seabirds didn't appear until nearing Ilfracombe when a handful of Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull put in an appearance. The rather lumpy conditions also made trying to spot any cetaceans that bit more challenging.

The stiff breeze and choppy conditions meant no cruise further west than Ilfracombe so after a short break in Ilfracombe the return journey began slightly earlier than would otherwise have been the case. Just out of Ilfracombe we passed a group of ten or so Gannet circling a patch of sea but despite a good grilling I was unable to spot a Harbour Porpoise. After that it was much the same as the outward journey with a distinct lack of birds until a group of skuas saved the day - four Great Skua and one Arctic Skua flashed past on their way down channel. It's always exciting to see these charismatic birds.

Bristol Channel Peter Howlett 01

Late afternoon skies over the Bristol Channel (Peter Howlett)

As we were returning early the ship diverted to take a closer look at Flatholm, always a bonus as it's such an interesting island. By now the clouds had broken enough to make for some lovely skies with late afternoon sun.

A chilly but very enjoyable day out and my thanks go to the captain and crew of the MV Balmoral for all their help and support.

Peter Howlett; MARINElife WLO